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Favorite Poem: "Banana Man"

A Connecticut businessman reads his favorite poem in a continuing series from former poet laureate Robert Pinsky.

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    We started about 21 years ago here in Hartford, a mom and pop with just three employees and my wife. We have grown from three employees – now we have nearly fifty. Most of the people who work for us are Jamaicans. It's nice to be able to help your own people, and very often you need a new employee and it's a matter of somebody mentioning a relative or somebody they knew, so it's like an extended family for all of us.

    And I think what we have done that makes me feel good particularly is the fact that we have made a contribution, not just to ourselves or to our own workers or to our own people, but to the community in which we live because we have certainly brought to the attention of many people how important diversity is in this town.

    The poem that I have chosen to read is one that I really love. It's set in the mid '40s in Jamaica. The main person in the poem is small farmer who ekes out a living in the very hard hillsides in Portland of Jamaica. He's proud of what he does; he knows who he is and he's not afraid of facing anyone who wants to criticize him. I like it because of that expression of who a Jamaican is but I also like it because it was one of the first attempts by any Jamaican to use the Jamaican Creole in way it could have universal understanding.

    He talks about places and things I'm familiar with. You know, as a youngster growing up in a Jamaica when he talks about Mullet and Janga swimming in the pool, I used to, you know, wade into the stream and try and catch these Janga which is like a little shrimp, you know, under the rocks. And the mountain Mullet in Jamaica is one of the sweetest- tasting fishes that you have, so a very nostalgic connection for me also, especially when you are far away from home, it kind of brings back the memories of who you are, who your people are, and what we stand for.

    "The Song of the Banana Man" by Evan Jones.

    Touris, white man, wipin his face, Met me in Golden Grove market place. He looked at m'ol' clothes brown wid stain , AN soaked right through wid de Portlan rain, He cas his eye, turn up his nose, He says, 'You're a beggar man, I suppose?'He says, 'Boy, get some occupation, Be of some value to your nation.'I said, 'By God and dis big right han You mus recognize a banana man.

    'Up in de hills, where de streams are cool, An mullet an janga swim in de pool, I have ten acres of mountain side, An a dainty-foot donkey dat I ride, Four Gros Michel, an four Lacatan, Some coconut trees, and some hills of yam, An I pasture on dat very same lan Five she-goats an a big black ram, Dat, by God an dis big right han Is de property of a banana man.

    'I leave m'yard early-mornin time An set m'foot to de mountain climb, I ben m'back to de hot-sun toil, An m'cutlass rings on de stony soil, Ploughin an weedin, diggin an plantin Till Massa Sun drop back o John Crow mountain, Den home again in cool evenin time, Perhaps whistling dis likkle rhyme, (Sung)Praise God an m'big right hanI will live an die a banana man.

    'Banana day is my special day,I cut my stems an I'm on m'way, Load up de donkey, leave de lan Head down de hill to banana stan, When de truck comes roun I take a ride All de way down to de harbour side-Dat is de night, when you, touris man, Would change your place wid a banana man. Yes, by God, an m'big right han I will live an die a banana man.

    'De bay is calm, an de moon is bright De hills look black for de sky is light, Down at de dock is an English ship, Restin after her ocean trip, While on de pier is a monstrous hustle, Tallymen, carriers, all in a bustle, Wid stems on deir heads in a long black snake Some singin de sons dat banana men make, Like, (Sung) Praise God an m'big right han I will live an die a banana man.

    'Den de payment comes, an we have some fun, Me, Zekiel, Breda and Duppy Son. Down at de bar near United Wharf We knock back a white rum, bus a laugh, Fill de empty bag for further toil Wid saltfish, breadfruit, coconut oil. Den head back home to m'yard to sleep, A proper sleep dat is long an deep. Yes, by God, an m'big right han I will live an die a banana man.

    'So when you see dese ol clothes brown wid stain, An soaked right through wid de Portlan rain, Don't cas your eye nor turn your nose, Don't judge a man by his patchy clothes, I'm a strong man, a proud man, an I'm free, Free as dese mountains, free as dis sea, I know myself, an I know my ways, An will sing wid pride to de end o my days(Sung)Praise God an m'big right han I will live an die a banana man.'

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